MARQUETTE - Whether it was as a coach at Central State University in Ohio and Washington High School in Milwaukee or as a player at Southwest Missouri State, Mesa Community College in Arizona or Milwaukee's Rufus King High School, Northern Michigan University head men's basketball coach Doug Lewis has been a part of a winning ball club.
The exception has been his first two seasons with the Wildcats, where he's 18-34 after bringing a seven-year mark of 125-61 from Central to NMU.
"Those first two years that I suffered, I'm going to make up for that," Lewis said.
NMU sophomore guard Quinten Calloway in an exhibition game on Thursday, Nov. 1 against Michigan at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor. (NMU photo by Calvin Larson)
"This is the year people will see what type of teams I'm capable of having on the floor night in and night out.
"Talent-wise and with a higher basketball IQ, I think we can make a run for the GLIAC conference tournament."
After back-to-back 9-17 campaigns for the NMU basketball team that included a 4-15 GLIAC record in 2010-11 and a 5-14 league record last season - both good for last in the North Division - Lewis believes this is the year the program turns the corner.
According to?Lewis, depth is the key to snapping the Wildcats' streak of five losing seasons with the last winning campaign coming in 2006-07.
"Our big concentration is winning some basketball games this year," said Lewis, who also brought in a new assistant coach in former Grambling State assistant Tae Norwood. "Of course every year we want to win some basketball games, but now after two good years of recruiting, we really have some talent that can compete in this league.
"I think this year we have enough depth so when we go to the bench, we'll be fine."
That depth has already been dealt a large blow, however, with sophomore guard Haki Stampley out for the season after being hospitalized with an undisclosed illness at the beginning of the school year.
Stampley was set to be the Wildcats' leading returning scorer from a year ago after averaging 14 points a game, which was second last year to graduated senior DeAndre Taylor.
The only other Wildcat to average double-digits in scoring last season is also gone in Jared Benson and his 11.7 points per contest.
"It's a blow," Lewis said of the loss of Stampley. "It hurts our depth, but overall talent-wise, this is the best club I've had in my three years here.
"I think we've done a good job recruiting, so we can overcome this. I still think we can have a great season and this is a young team."
Senior forward TJ Cameron, who transferred to NMU last season from Mott Community College, and junior forward Matt Craggs, now a three-year starter, will be charged with leading the young Wildcats.
Craggs at 6-foot-6, 220 pounds, averaged 8.8 points per game last season and is the team's top returning rebounder after averaging 5.5 boards per outing a year ago. In the exhibition at Michigan on Nov. 1, he scored 13 points and led NMU with seven rebounds.
"I'm developing more of a post game and coach Norwood has been on me," Craggs said. "I've been shooting every day, getting as many shots as possible."
Cameron, at 6-3, 203, is known more for the points he prevents than the points he scores - averaged seven points a night and finished with 20 steals last year - and he eats up minutes as well after averaging 32 per game last season.
Behind Craggs and Cameron are a pair of sophomores who each saw significant time as freshmen in 5-11, 155-pound guard Quinten Calloway and 6-5, 183-pound forward Kendall Jackson. Both will be the key to the Wildcats' depth coming off the bench.
Calloway started at point guard when he wasn't injured last season, but that role now shifts to redshirt freshman Terry Nash, who led Wisconsin Lutheran High School to its first-ever state title back in 2008-09.
Lewis said Nash, at 6-feet, and 175 pounds, will take Northern to another level.
"He's trying to get the rust off of him right now," Lewis said. "He's trying to understand exactly what we want him to do. In terms of talent, being able to create shots, great quickness, tough, a leader, he has all those intangibles to be one of the best point guards in this league."
Of the three transfers Lewis brought in this season, only junior forward Scooter Johnson out of Kent State is ready to play now with Jeron Lee out of Lewis University in Illinois taking a redshirt year and Michael Smith of Grand Rapids Community College out due to a concussion.
Johnson played the past two seasons behind the Mid-Atlantic Conference's 2010-11 Player of the Year in Justin Greene. Johnson will now start for NMU and Lewis expects the 6-7, 220-pound junior to be one of the best in the GLIAC this season.
"I think we got one of the few guys in the post that demands a presence and demands a double team," Lewis said. "I think we have that."
Backing up Johnson is one of Lewis' two true freshmen in 6-10, 222-pound center Matt Iverson out of Woodruff, Wis. and Lakeland High School.
Iverson led NMU in scoring in the exhibition at Michigan, scoring 14 points and nabbing six boards.
"We're talking about a kid who can do everything," Lewis said. "He can shoot it, he put it on the floor, he can throw right or left-hand jump hooks, he can run the floor and finish. More importantly, he's just tough."
Stephen Pelkofer, a 6-2, 185-pound true-freshman guard of Whitnall High School outside of Milwaukee, will round out the 'Cats starting five.
He had a disappointing debut against Michigan, going 0-for-7 from the field, but Lewis said he expects Pelkofer to help toughen the Wildcats mentally, especially with his gym-rat attitude.
As Cameron explains, it's no joke that Pelkofer has quickly earned the nickname, "The Machine" in the Wildcats' locker room.
"He does everything," Cameron said. "He's probably the hardest working guy on the team. He's going to bring a lot starting too. I think he's ready to play now.
"He's a machine. That's the perfect name for him."
Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252.